Thursday, April 19, 2012

Among Others, by Jo Walton

Among Others is one of the Nebula and Hugo award nominees for 2011, and I would not be at all surprised to see it get a World Fantasy Award nomination as well. It's pretty much tailor made to get an award--the protagonist is a serious SF fan from the 70's which coincides nicely with Boomer award voters.  The standout element of the book for me, and probably for those voters too, is the continuous shout-out of familiar authors and titles from that time--Zelazny, Zenna Henderson, Simak, Silverberg--it goes on and on.  Vonnegut.  Etc.  So it's got an automatic appeal to those of us who lived (and maybe still live) for the moments we have to read our beloved genre.

So how is it as a current story?  Here I am not so sure.  The protagonist suffers the very real pains of exclusion, because of her interaction with magic and fairies.  The magic is always deniable--natural events could have brought it about--and the fairies are definitely supernatural beings but that's just what she calls them.  Morganna is a reasonably engaging character but matter of fact to the point of flat affect.  She moves through the world and cares very much about the SF elements, but not a lot else.  The book doesn't really build at all--Mor (that's what she goes by) is so fully preoccupied by her books that she seems to barely notice the fantastical elements in her life.  And this is deliberate.  My library classifies it as a YA title, but none of those 70's books are going to resonate at all unless the reader has really been digging--those books don't have a prominent place in libraries anymore (though libraries certainly have a prominent place in the book). 

So what we have here is very much "inside baseball".  Stronger as a contender for the award than as a novel in its own right.  I still give it 4 stars because reading all those old titles was so much fun--I had actually read the vast majority of them.  If you are a die hard SF fan you will like it for that too.

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